Thursday, July 20, 2023

Desire "for" or "contrary to" in Genesis 3:16

I think the English Standard Version (ESV) had Genesis 3:16 right in its 2011 edition and messed up with the 2016 edition when it came to this verse. 

ESV 2011: “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

ESV 2016: “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.”

The 2011 translation make more sense on a number of levels, is more compatible with historical exegesis, and is the option most compatible with similar uses of the phrase in Genesis 4:7 and Song of Solomon 7:10. 

This sentence is a reaffirmation of the creation order in the context of the fall. It was indirectly a chastisement, in that they were fallen and this subjection was less voluntary and agreeable. But it was primarily a correction of the woman's waywardness and a mercy that reaffirmed marriage and the fulfillment of their original design. They would not be separated. Man would not be alone and the woman would still be a helper fit for him, under his rule and care.

The basic idea of the preposition in question, אֵל, is that of "toward." Since we are speaking of desire, it is most natural to translate it as "for." When a person's desire is directed toward an object, we say that he or she has a desire for it. 

The 2011 and 2016 translations offer very different meanings. In this context, “for” is a good thing and “contrary” is a bad thing. In Genesis 4:7, sin’s desire was for Cain, and that was bad because sin is bad. A “desire for” is the idea of possessing or having, which is good in the case of a husband and wife (Song 7:10, Gen. 3:16), but not good when sin wants to have you (Gen. 4:7). 

Likewise, "rule" in Genesis is a good thing, but it looks differently depending on what is being ruled. A bad thing like sin will be ruled by being crushed (4:7), while good things like day and night (1:18), a wife (3:16), a household (24:2), brothers (37:8), or Egypt (45:8, 26) will be ruled in a way that provides care, direction, protection, and well-being in a way that befits the particular relationship. Of course, Christ's benevolent rule of his church, exercised with self-sacrificial love, is the ideal for the way this is supposed to work in marriage (Eph. 1:22-23, 5:22-33). 

The pronouncements in Genesis 3:14-19 are actions of God. They are God's response to sin, expressing both his justice and his mercy. They are not merely his description of the situation, except for the "because" clauses in verses 14 and 17. It would be odd for God to make the woman's desire contrary to her husband, but it does make sense for him to reaffirm his design. As Matthew Henry observed, God put enmity between the woman and the serpent, not between the woman and the man. Thank God! 

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